The Citadel Conundrum

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the castle of Segovia, Spain lit in late afternoon sun, viewed from the valley below

   Right-wing and left-wing exploding brains just might be the result of a proposed development in northern Idaho: it's called The Citadel. Here's the proposed plan of the development:

plan of The Citadel in northern Idaho

   Before we go any further, please note that except for exercising my right to vote, I care very little for politics and hope that nobody has any clue how I voted from the things I say and write. I haven't told anyone, not even my wife, how I voted in the last election.

sunset through the Western gate of Pienza, Italy

   So with that established, let's talk politics without getting political. The Citadel site says that "Marxists, Socialists, Liberals, and Establishment Republicans may find that living within our Citadel Community is incompatible with their existing ideology and preferred lifestyles." A reasonable person might infer from this statement that the Citadel folks are likely pretty far to the right of the political spectrum, right?

   But now let's look closer at the plan of the Citadel. What you see here is a place with defined boundaries, several neighborhoods, a town green and amphitheater, a town center, a factory on the edge, farmland all around the outer walls and a farmers' market just inside the main gate. In other words, it's a town. Except for the town walls and sometimes the farmland outside, these are components you'd find in any New Urbanist town.

stone ramparts of Toledo, Spain

   Now let's look around the Citadel site a bit. If you go to the Citadel Housing Cost Calculator and plug in some numbers, you'll find that they definitely have affordable housing. The comprehensive plan shows a clear buffer zone between the inner and outer walls, and the farmland is a buffer as well. Just inside the walls, which form an urban growth boundary, the perimeter road appears to be running through a greenway. Open space is interspersed through the plan. Their land use policies are clarified on the FAQ page, as are the facts that they're open to all races and religions but intend to protect themselves and their quality of life from all threats. In other words, they're planning on building a sustainable community… maybe not precisely to the standards of the New Urbanism, but there's a lot of crossover.

main gate of Toledo, Spain

  See all the italicized words in the paragraph above? They come straight from Glenn Beck's Agenda 21 Keyword List. I'd never heard of Agenda 21 until a couple years ago, but I've been following the New Urbanism since Seaside was first published in 1981. Agenda 21 is a non-binding, voluntarily implemented sustainable development guide sponsored by the UN. In recent years, it became a Tea Party lightning rod, and is portrayed as a conspiracy by the UN to take away individual property rights.

   But back to the Citadel. Their website doesn't list any of the leaders so I can't research them very easily, but their website makes it appear likely that some of them may follow Glenn Beck, and that maybe some of them might be sympathetic to the Tea Party. Yet they're building a place filled with things characterized by Agenda 21 keywords. To complicate matters further, Glenn Beck announced plans just over a week ago to build the city of Independence. Plans haven't been published yet, but if you read his description of the place, it embodies many of these principles as well. Confused yet?

diagonal view of the ramparts of Toledo, Spain

   The left wing is just as conflicted. I have some strong left-wing New Urbanist friends and some strong right-wing New Urbanist friends, but those on the left tend to be more vocal, so the New Urbanism is sometimes characterized as liberal. It is not. It spans the spectrum. But in any case, I've had a first-hand view of the left-wing conflictedness many times. For example, it really galled them that George W. Bush stopped at Seaside to give a campaign speech, and that Karl Rove bought a house at Rosemary Beach. And there has been much consternation by left-leaning New Urbanists about the plan of The Citadel in recent days.

last fading rays of sunset silhouetting the castle of Segovia, Spain

   Here's the bottom line: Right-wingers have no right to call me a communist for designing places that look and work like Mayberry. That's ridiculous. And it's just as ridiculous for the left to reject architecture or urbanism based solely upon the politics of the builders. Do that, and we have to reject Monticello, Mount Vernon, and the original University of Virginia campus because both Jefferson and Washington owned slaves.

   Here's an idea: politics only last until the next election unless there's a recall, in which case they don't even last that long. But buildings can last for centuries and cities can last for millennia. So if your prime interest is politics, then go and fight those short-term battles, and good luck with that. Seriously. But don't take good place-making principles and make them political. Leave the short-term principles in the short-term battles, and the long-term principles in the long-term battles, where they each belong. Town-building is too important to get caught up in politics because the towns and cities last so long. 

   ~Steve Mouzon

© The Guild Foundation 2013